Epica The Phantom Agony

Don’t let the cheesy cover art decorating Epica’s debut album mislead you about what’s inside. The Phantom Agony is pure neoclassical metal, with the emphasis on orchestral grandiosity and mezzo soprano operatics. Rather than making room for brief explorations on strings and (synthetic) horns, Epica’s standard guitar-based metal line-up constantly works in tandem with the band’s classical instrumentation. Male growls play work alongside choral accompaniment, both clearly subordinate to soaring female leads. The effect is melodramatic, but in an epic Wagnerian way (perhaps proving the band’s name an apt choice). Epica allow the intensity level to drop for a song with acoustic guitar, but spike it up again immediately after. The Phantom Agony explores a running thematic threat — overt in subtitles like "The Neverending Embrace” and "The Embrace that Smothers” Parts IV to VI (not too sure where I to III are) — with many songs addressing religious conflicts in large scale. Epica’s aesthetic ties them to bands like Therion and Tristania, but not as copy cats, more as promising recruits under the neoclassical metal banner. (Transmission)